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Board Book Roundup: Spring 2016 Edition

This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

We need diverse board books, too! Start your child’s fine bookshelf early with the titles below — some spotlighting a specific culture, religion, or community, others including a range of ethnicities and/or the use of incidental diversity.

allen_a kiss means i love youA Kiss Means I Love You
by Kathryn Madeline Allen; photographs by Eric Futran
Whitman     18 pp.
1/16     978-0-8075-4189-0     $7.99



allen_show me happyShow Me Happy
by Kathryn Madeline Allen; photographs by Eric Futran
Whitman     18 pp.
1/16     978-0-8075-7353-2     $7.99

These concept books feature simple rhyming text accompanied by large, close-up photographs of ethnically diverse children. Kiss introduces emotions associated with specific gestures and facial expressions (“A kiss means I love you, / a wave means hello, / a smile means I’m happy, / a tug means let’s go!”). Happy‘s focus is a bit more diffuse; concepts illustrated include opposites such as up/down and little/big alongside more abstract ideas (“Show me happy, / show me helping”). Both books conclude with warm collages of the featured kids and their family members.

friedman_3 falafels in my pita3 Falafels in My Pita: A Counting Book of Israel [Very First Board Books]
by Maya Friedman; illus. by Steve Mack
Kar-Ben     12 pp.
4/15     978-1-4677-3472-1     $5.95
e-book 978-1-4677-6200-7     $5.99

This book offers a simultaneous tour of Israel’s sights and experiences as it counts from one to ten: “1 Cable car going up Masada / 2 Friends playing paddle-ball on the beach.” Cheery illustrations with a cut-paper look portray a diverse group of kids engaging in a variety of activities; the bright palette mutes slightly (and appropriately) for “8 Notes placed in The Western Wall” but is back in full force in time for “10 Children dancing the hora.”

hutton_ballBall [Baby Unplugged]
by Dr. John Hutton; illus. by Sarah Jones
Blue Manatee     16 pp.
4/16     978-1-936669-42-4     $7.99

“BIG ball. Tiny ball. Round ball. Shiny ball” begins this celebration of one of childhood’s earliest and most ubiquitous toys. In rhyming text and energetic illustrations, kids of varied ages and skin tones play in a variety of settings (backyard, blacktop schoolyard) and seasons (with snowballs and beach balls). A few surprising choices — “tiny ball” is a blueberry, “odd ball” a pumpkin, “not ball” a block — enliven the pattern, building to the good-night ending: “Play ball all day, sweet ball dreams.”

inhabit_inuit toolsInuksiutiit / Inuit Tools
Inhabit Junior     22 pp.
7/15     978-1-927095-87-4     $12.95




inhabit_marine mammalsMiqquliit Tariurmiutat / Marine Mammals
Inhabit Junior    18 pp.
7/15     978-1-927095-86-7     $10.95




inhabit_arctic animalsUkiuqtaqtuup Uumajungit / Arctic Animals
Inhabit Junior     18 pp.
7/15     978-1-927095-85-0     $10.95

These word books by Inuit-owned publisher Inhabit Media follow the same basic structure. On each verso page appears an image of an animal or object; Animals and Mammals offer stunning stock photos of creatures in their natural arctic habitats, while Tools uses clean-lined illustrations on brightly colored backgrounds. Each recto page identifies the animal or tool in Inuktitut, followed by the word’s transliteration into the Latin alphabet and English translation. Tools doubles as a counting book.

khan_it's ramadan curious georgeIt’s Ramadan, Curious George
by Hena Khan; illus. by Mary O’Keefe Young
Houghton     16 pp.
5/16     978-0-544-65226-2     $7.99

George participates in his friend Kareem’s family’s Ramadan celebrations, from the beginning until its end with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. This year is a special one for Kareem, who is fasting during daylight hours for the first time. It’s not easy, but Kareem succeeds. Kareem and George attend mosque, do good deeds, break fast with a delicious meal and prayers, and admire the crescent moon in rhyming text and textured, softly colored H. A. Rey–style illustrations. George is respectful of his friend’s observance of the holy month but maintains his customary playfulness, e.g., entertaining children by juggling cans at the mosque’s food drive.

marshall_shh shh shabbatShh… Shh… Shabbat
by Linda Elovitz Marshall; illus by Evgenia Golubeva
Kar-Ben     12 pp.
4/16     978-1-4677-5873-4     $5.99
e-book 978-1-4677-9615-6     $5.99

Wild animals experience a noisy week in and around a busy city, beginning with “a sizzling summer Sunday” when Squirrel hears “Skateboards sliding through the park, / Salsa dancing, dogs that bark.” But on Shabbat, “Soft winds blow, / Rhythms slow. / Noises hush, / There’s no rush.” The creatures enjoy the peace and quiet; a family (including their dog and cat…but not the baby!) prays before their Shabbat dinner. Rhythmic, rhyming text full of alliteration captures the week’s frenzy, then quiets to reflect the Sabbath’s calm.

nagara_counting on communityCounting on Community
by Innosanto Nagara
Triangle Square/Seven Stories     26 pp.
9/15     978-1-60980-632-3     $8.99

Count one to ten in a tight-knit, multicultural community as its inhabitants garden, play, make music, demonstrate (“Eight picket signs showing that we care”), and celebrate at a block-party potluck spread including tamales, kebabs, and sushi. Jewel-toned, textured collage illustrations with a range of perspectives capture the bustling neighborhood’s diverse children and adults as well as its urban-farm fowl residents (which can be spotted on every spread, some more challenging to find than others). The final page explores a different meaning of counting: “So what can you count in your community? / I can count on you, and you can count on me!”

smith_my heart fills with happinessMy Heart Fills with Happiness
by Monique Gray Smith; illus. by Julie Flett
Orca     26 pp.
3/16     978-1-4598-0957-4     $9.95

In lyrical text, First Nations children relate their favorite simple pleasures: spending time with loved ones, smelling baking bannock, making music, dancing, enjoying nature, and listening to stories. Their simple declarations of joy — in a handlettered-looking font on textured cream backgrounds — contrast nicely with the rich-hued gouache and digital collage illustrations depicting these moments on facing pages. The setting and characters are specific, and welcome; the emotion is universal.

spurr_in the windIn the Wind
by Elizabeth Spurr; illus. by Manelle Oliphant
Peachtree Petite     22 pp.
3/16     978-1-56145-854-7     $6.95

“Windy day. Sunny sky.” Conditions are perfect, so a young girl of color, her mother, and their dog head to the park: “Brand new kite. Time to fly!” Soon, the kite gets stuck in a tree, then breaks loose and sails away. The girl is disappointed, but when they return home, there’s a surprise waiting in the yard. The soft, painterly illustrations transport readers to that blustery day in the park, right up to the beautiful sunset, and ably communicate the girl’s emotional experience.

vukovich_hush little keikiHush Little Keiki
by Kim Vukovich; illus. by Mariko Merritt
Bess     18 pp.
1/15     978-1-57306-513-9     $14.95

The old lullaby is reimagined here with a Hawaii-specific setting and nature-centric lyrics. “Hush little keiki, don’t say a word. / Mama’s gonna show you a mynah bird,” reads the first page. Opposite is the mynah bird, sitting in a tree. Open a gatefold page to see the end of that verse — “and if that mynah bird should fly / Mama’s gonna show you the big bright sky” — along with the bird soaring among glorious, sunset-tinged clouds. Mama promises her baby a “humpback ballet,” evening rains, a hula dance, the starry night, a papaya treat, and more as the evening goes on. But when Mama starts to yawn, it’s time to tuck baby (and a stuffed-animal humpback) into bed. Well-suited to the evocative verse, cut-paper collage illustrations celebrate a sweet mother-child relationship and Hawaii’s natural beauty.

More great choices:

We’d love to hear from you — what are some of your favorite diverse books for the very youngest children?



Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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